Unsettling and unsettled issues...

Ann Hagan Webb (right) of Wesley, who is a sexual abuse survivor, spoke yesterday during a press conference in Providence held by BishopAccountability.org. (Photo: Stew Milne for the Boston Globe)

In a lengthy letter in this week's bulletin, I offer my reflections on the third anniversary of the founding of Holy Family Parish following the suppression of our two parishes of origin: St. Bernard Parish and Our Lady Help of Christians Parish. Among other thoughts, I wrote the following:
One more response to the question: “How’s it going since the two parishes came together?” Well, for some it hasn’t gone too well at all. They find themselves hurt, angry, disappointed and filled with questions not finding satisfying answers. Some have walked away. Some are always with us but with heavy hearts. Some come on occasion: some with growing frequency and some less and less often… I want you to know that these are among those who keep me going, too. Their questions keep me from forgetting that many issues have gone unresolved. Their anger reminds me of the depth of the wound the church has suffered. Their disappointment keeps me from too quickly dismissing the harm done. For those who find themselves in such places, I pray for your healing, your return and your reconciliation with the Church you have loved, served and been part of for so many years. Each week we pray in the General Intercessions: For the healing of those who have been abused and betrayed and for the restoration of trust and confidence in the Church, let us pray to the Lord… Someone asked me last year how long we would keep that petition in the intercessions. I said we would pray it until the abused and betrayed have been healed and until trust and confidence in the Church is restored. We may pray it, then, for a long time and those whose hurt still aches keep me going by reminding me that the Body of Christ, the Church, is as vulnerable as Christ on the Cross and as strong as Christ risen from the dead.
Today's edition of the Boston Globe (10/20/07) carries a front page story on clergy abuse in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, the focus of which is an apparent discrepancy in the number and names of priests with allegations of sexual misconduct in that diocese. A court document discovered by BishopAccountability includes statistics which call into question reports made by the previous bishop of Providence.

I don't know how this will be settled. The Rhode Island Attorney General has said that he plans to investigate the issues involved. What I do know is that the story reminds all of us not only a tragic history but also of the ways the story is not yet over. Controversies like the one in the Ocean State are not unusual and in spite of all the good work already accomplished and being carried forth nationally and in local parishes, there is still a woeful lack of accountability for and understanding of this traumatic chapter in church history.

I'll tell you the truth. I didn't want to raise this topic here or publish this post. It's too easy for a pastor like myself to want to get on with the work of parish life (of which there's plenty) and to want to get beyond headlines like the one I read this morning. And no, I don't blame the Boston Globe for stirring up the story again: the story is the Church's story, the report is the Globe's and the story is still in the telling - whether we like that or not. Shielding ourselves from acknowledging the serious changes that remain to be made in the ministry and administration of the Catholic Church does no one, least of all the institutional Church, any good.

There are, thank God, men and women in my parish who keep the issues and questions before me and as I wrote above, I'm grateful for that and for them.

There is no easy or neat way to end this post. See, that's the problem: many of us would like a neat and easy way to put this story behind us but such a way does not exist. Continuing to honestly face the hard questions and working to change the structures that allowed such a nightmare to happen are the only way to get to the end of this story.


  1. I for one applaud your choice to keep the prayers of the faithful as written for as long as we need to hear those words. For some of us, the transition has been a long and hard road travelled. Some of us find that we struggle now with how often we attend Mass. A new struggle to try and find answers to. There are those of us who still find it difficult to embrace the church that caused so much hurt. In Saturday's homily, it was preached that we need to "move ahead", "get beyond", and while that is an ideal goal to continue to reach for, it must be understood that there are those of us, who, for a number of reasons find that scenario to be unrealistic as we struggle with issues in life that have left us emotionally challenged and unable to let go and believe that healing in our lives and within our church are attainable. For some, our lives and church were the core of our day to day living and experiences. For some, our trust was shattered. Our hearts broken. Our faith shaken. And, as much as I applaud the mountains that we have climbed in the last 3 years, the church's growth, reassurance and revitalization at HFP, there is still a level of mistrust within the infrastructure of the church as a whole. HFP sustains my faith, and I pray each day that I can shed the hurt and disappointment that still lingers within.
    That is my prayer for all...

  2. Thank you, Austin. This has been such a difficult time for so many people in our Church. We don't want to believe that children, young people and vulnerable people could have been so deeply harmed by those they trusted most. The fact is they were and continue to be. That is why we must do everything we can to protect, to heighten awareness and to create a safe environment in our parishes. It isn't easy to understand for some, because we have such a wonderful parish. But for the good of all in our Church we need not to forget what has happened and we should do everything we can to prevent this from every happening again.

  3. I commend HFP for keeping this subject on the front burner because, as you stated, "Shielding ourselves from acknowledging the serious changes that remain to be made in the ministry and administration of the Catholic Church does no one, least of all the institutional Church, any good."

    I hope the parishioners of HFP don't think that it is only the Catholic Church that has this situation hanging over their heads.

    As we speak, other denominations have, and are still, dealing with this type of situation. The only difference is that, instead of talking about it openly, they try to sweep it under the rug and pretend that it never happened.

    With that kind of attitude and mentality, the problem will continue to live on and not die. Also, new victims -- [I really didn't want to use that word] -- will fall into the trap and clutches of the wrong-doers.

    The saying, "prevention is the best medicine" couldn't be more correct!


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and PRAY before you think!